I’m no child psychologist, but I can tell you that I’ve dealt with my fair share of moms who worry themselves to death about the impact of their divorce on their children. To some extent, of course, they will notice and probably be affected by it – but that doesn’t mean that a divorce has to be traumatizing for children.
Studies have shown that children – particularly young children – are pretty resilient and adaptable. It’s also better for children to be in two loving homes than it is for them to be around parents who bicker and fight and generally aren’t the best versions of themselves. It can be harder on older, college-aged children, though, so that’s also something to be aware of. (Think of it from their perspective: younger children never know any different, older children remember their entire lives prior to that point.)
There are a lot of things you can do, though, to help ensure that your divorce has as minimal an impact as possible on the children.
1. Don’t discuss the divorce around the children.
Even if you think they’re too young. Even if you think they don’t understand. I am hesitant to even talk about divorce in front of 6 month olds when my clients bring them to appointments. Give them some credit. Children know things. Lots of things. You’d probably be shocked if you knew all the things they knew.
To some extent, you may have to talk about it. And you and your husband should discuss it together first, and present a united front when you do talk about it. Answer their questions, and ensure that they feel loved. Let them know they aren’t to blame. Get them help (like, with a therapist) if they need it.
Don’t badmouth each other or make the kids play intermediary. Don’t ask them to keep secrets from each other for you, or to deliver messages. Don’t ask them to spy on their other parent, or question them about their other parent’s activities.
2. Talk to your husband about things involving the children, and present a united front.
Considering a move? Switching schools? Making other big changes? Your child’s father is not your enemy where your kids are concerned. You need to discuss these things and cooperate, especially if you anticipate that there may be an issue. Don’t make big decisions behind your child’s other parent’s back.
I’ve seen all sorts of things – hair cuts, vacations, school enrollment, birthday parties, religious ceremonies (like first communion) etc – become HUGE issues. When that happens, it steals the joy from the child’s experience, too. Don’t fail to communicate, and then make it your child’s problem.
3. Take a court approved coparenting class.
Struggling with how to navigate this new territory? You’re not alone! There are coparenting classes for exactly this reason, and they’re specifically designed to help you figure out how to manage coparenting. It’s new! It’s a skill. It’s a good time to learn it.
Also, if your case is litigated, the judge will likely require it anyway. May as well take it, and take from it whatever you can.
4. Consider collaborative or uncontested divorce.
Whether you’re thinking about collaborative divorce or just generally pursuing an uncontested divorce, keeping your case out of court can go a long way towards helping your children reconcile.
Litigation is stressful, and it takes a toll on everyone, the children included. Even though children are almost never called to testify in contested custody cases, they can be involved in other ways. If a Guardian ad litem is appointed, he or she will interview the child, conduct home studies, and ultimately make a recommendation. Guardians ad litem are trained to deal with kids, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t feel the strain all the same.
To whatever extent possible, negotiate a result that allows both you and your child’s father to be (and stay!) good guys in each other’s eyes. A knock down, drag out fight often leaves no one feeling like a winner – least of all the children.
For more information, or to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.